Immigration Attorney

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Housing Undocumented Relatives Can Get Families in Trouble

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to deport the dangerous “bad hombres” who were undocumented immigrants. This now includes undocumented immigrants who care for children and teens who crossed the border illegally while trying to escape crime and violence in their home countries, often in Central America.

In the name of trying to crack down on people paying human smugglers to get relatives across the border, ICE is investigating those caring for teens and children who crossed the border illegally to seek asylum. More than 400 people have been arrested over the summer as a result of these efforts. Others are trying to avoid ICE or have agreed to be deported. Some have admitted to paying human smugglers, or coyotes, to reunite with their children.

Mother Jones magazine’s story on this new approach uses Edwin, a Kansas City resident, as an example. He started living in the U.S. more than fifteen years ago after he left El Salvador. He found a job and obtained Temporary Protected Status, which allows him to live and work in the U.S. as long he has no criminal record.

This summer Edwin was called by immigration officials. They told him his nephew was detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border and they wanted to release him into Edwin’s care. Less than a week later, an ICE detective came to his home and informed him he needed to appear at their local office to be interviewed about the possible violation of three federal crimes: conspiracy, visa fraud and human smuggling.

Edwin denies knowing that his nephew was coming to the U.S. and denies paying anyone to smuggle him into the country. He was also unaware that by complying with ICE’s request to care for his nephew he risked getting himself in trouble. Edwin says he would have risked it anyway to help his sister’s son. If not for Edwin’s protected status, ICE may have started deportation proceedings.

“I’ve been here more than a decade and I’ve never had a single problem with the authorities. Now, it’s like the government is changing everything around,” Edwin is quoted as saying. “Now, everything is dangerous.”

Many others caught up in this crackdown were just in the wrong place at the wrong time: those who were at home when ICE showed up or they agreed to ICE’s request to house teens after they came to the U.S. It puts families in a bind if members are already in the country illegally and another family member comes to the U.S. and needs a place to stay. They can agree to help the person, but if they do they risk deportation or possible federal criminal charges if they paid a smuggler to get the family member to the U.S.

While the agency is focusing on host families, it also wants unaccompanied, undocumented children to stay with family members living in the U.S. because it saves them the cost of doing it themselves. About 90% of children and teens detained at the Mexican border are eventually picked up by a family member.

Under President Barack Obama, ICE didn’t pursue family members who came forward to help relatives, even if they were in the country illegally. That policy has been reversed under the new administration, with the stated goal of discouraging children from being smuggled across the border.

If you live in Kentucky and are caring for family members seeking asylum and have been contacted by ICE and want advice as to what you should do next, contact our office so we can discuss the applicable laws and how we can help.